Halloween Mansions. Movies reviewed: Jem and the Holograms, Crimson Peak, The Hexecutioners

Posted in Canada, Gothic, Halloween, Horror, L.A., Movies, Music, UK, Women by CulturalMining.com on October 23, 2015

Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM.

Hallowe’en is a time of ghosts, ghouls and the walking dead. But it’s also a time for costumes, wigs and other disguises. This week I’m looking at three movies. There’s a gothic-horror melodrama about a woman trapped in a haunted mansion in England; another scary pic about two women trapped in a haunted mansion in Ontario; and a kids’ movie about four sisters who form a rock band in disguise and move to a mansion in L.A.

tumblr_nr8saftnQK1tv61rvo1_1280Jem and the Holograms
Dir: John M. Chu

When Jerrica (Aubrey Peeples) was just a little girl, her dad, an inventor in Los Angeles, died. All he left her was his final invention, a mysterious, white contraption. Now she and her sister Kimber (Stephanie Scott) live in a small town with her two half-sisters, and her aunt (Molly Ringwald). This mix-and-match family gets along swimmingly — no evil step-sisters here. tumblr_nr8sg2DJX41tv61rvo1_1280They’re into fashion, music and social networking online. They make their own music, too, but Jerrica is too shy to show her talents to the world. But she records a private tape as “Jem” using a fake wig with pink stripes painted on her face. Kimber posts the tape online, and Jem is suddenly web-famous.

Who is this mysterious songster, viewers want to know? Within days top LA record exec Erika Raymond (Juliette Lewis) is knocking at her door, ready to sign her to her label. But not without the rest of my band Jem, insists. Jem packs up her father’s tumblr_nr8sfdJW7c1tv61rvo1_1280invention and the four of them relocate to an LA mansion under the care of Rio (Ryan Guzman), Erika’s son.

They perform at key locations to adoring crowds, even as they follow the clues her dad’s invention provides her. Will the band survive success? Can record exec Erika be trusted? Will Jem get a swelled head as the leader of the band? And is something tumblr_nr8scclpo41tv61rvo1_1280happening between pretty Jem and handsome Rio?

Jem and the Holograms is a movie for teen girls, based on a Saturday morning cartoon from the 1980s. On the plus side, it gives girls a chance to dream of becoming rockstars not just princesses. And the songs are catchy. But for grown-ups like me, the story is hackneyed and predictable, with not much to offer aside from a chance to see 80s and 90s stars Juliette Lewis and Molly Ringwald have it out.

cpt_photo_0Crimson Peak
Dir: Guillermo del Toro

It’s turn of the 19th Century in boomtown Buffalo, NY. Edith (Mia Wasikowska) is a free-thinker and the heiress to a fortune.  She lives with her protective father and is visited by her late mother in the form of a dark wraith warning of future perils: Beware the Crimson Peak! Lovely Edith wears angelic dresses with winglike shoulder pads, and her pale blonde hair falls in ringlets on her face. She wants to becpt_photo_12 a professional writer and hones her skills at the local press. And she is relentlessly courted by the dependable Dr. Alan McMichael (Charlie Hunnam).

But then a stranger appears in town with his sister. Lucille and Thomas Sharpe (Jessica Chastain, Tom Hiddleston) are baronets, here to raise money. Thomas has cpt_photo_2invented a steampunk contraption that mines clay for bricks, a sought-after commodity. Edith’s father turns him down, but Edith, is drawn into his air of mystery. And after a romantic waltz they fall hopelessly in love, marry, and head off to his mansion in the English moors.

But all is not well. Her father dies in mysterious circumstances. Thomascpt_photo_5 seems to spend more time with his sister than with her, and they have yet to consummate their marriage. And Edith is growing steadily weaker and more tired, her face becoming pale with dark circles under her eyes. But she can still see the ghosts haunting the cpt_photo_15strange mansion, and she is shocked to discover the secrets the haunted mansion holds.

I liked this gothic melodrama. It follows Guillermo del Toro’s usual pattern of young women discovering ghosts hiding in draughty haunted mansions. Though this one seems a bit campier than usual. The look is amazing, especially the scarlet clay that bleeds through the white snow around the mansion. It has its cheesy parts, for sure, and Jessica Chastain, as the scheming sister, isn’t as good as the other three. But a good watch if you like period gothic horror.

Liv Collins as Malison McCourt in The HexecutionersThe Hexecutioners
Dir: Jesse Thomas Cook

Malison (Liv Collins) is a prim and proper career woman who lives in a threadbare apartment with just her cat to keep her company. Her neighbour Mr Poole (Walter Borden) is her landlord, a bible thumper who curses her name. She works for a euthanasia corporation assisting voluntary suicides since they changed the laws a few years earlier. But her first assignment goes terribly wrong, so she is sent on her next job with an old pro. Olivia (Sarah Power) is a vamp in black stockings who smokes, drinks, cusses and carries a sixgun. Nudity and death don’t faze her.

They arrive at a spooky, three-storey mansion lit by candles and 24347_320_470heated by a blazing fire. It’s surrounded by a foreboding hedge maze filled with hideous statues. They have to spend three nights there, until their assignment is complete. The house has a single servant, Edgar (Wil Burd), a creepy and skinny man with a shock of long black hair. His hobby is strangling pregnant possoms. And their client is an old man with a terribly deformed face. He wants to die, but in a very specific way. Mal begins to suffer night terrors – a common symptom of this job – and has a recurrent nightmare. She keeps seeing a strange, suicidal ritual repeated by a death cult wearing hideous masks. Then she begins to see them even when she’s awake! Are these hauntings related to the house — or are the two women to blame for their appearance?

The Hexecutioners is a good example of a slow-build horror. It’s more spooky than scary for most of the film. Its not perfect: some scenes felt repetitive, and I wasn’t crazy about the music-video-style montages that pop up here and there. But the small cast is uniformly excellent,  and it’s great to see a home- grown horror movie that harkens back to early Cronenberg.

Crimson Peak is playing now, The Hexecutioners premiered at Toronto After Dark, a festival of horror, action, fantasy and sci-fi movies, that continues through tonight; and Jem and the Holograms open today. Check your local listings. Also opening is Room, a fantastic movie about a mom and her little boy who live together in a hidden room. I reviewed Room during TIFF, and it’s a must-see. Don’t miss it.

This is Daniel Garber at the Movies, each Friday morning, on CIUT 89.5 FM and on my website, culturalmining.com

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